Blood and marriage are reason enough to gather on the hottest day of the year to celebrate family, for no other reason than that.  It's the Southern Way.

On a canvas of conversation broad-stroked with laughter, the fizzy flit of flies joins a threatening purr of bees to fill the air with contented sounds of Summer.  I can almost hear the ants creep and crawl.  Though unwanted guests, they’re expected.  Today they will feast.

It's a crying shame my eyes are bigger than my stomach; no restaurant on the planet can match the spread covering a mile of mismatched, cloth-covered folding tables.  It's fine dining in the most fulfilling sense of the word…scrumptious and diverse and laden with secrets.  Unpretentious and under-appreciated, it strikes me that beautiful doesn't have to be fancy.

Unearthing buried treasure from their gardens, my relatives produce bowl after steaming bowl of butter beans and butter peas and baby limas and black-eyed peas–and it takes a discerning palate or being raised in the South to understand the differences…to even realize there's a difference!

There are always two or three dishes of macaroni and cheese, three or four potato salads, and one of each is always better than the rest; I wish I could remember from reunion to reunion.  Instead, I get a small spoon of each, and if Murphy is in the house, the biggest serving is my least favorite.  Regardless, I'd eat them all not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, 'cause—good gravy!–the dish's cook could be sitting right next to me!  Graciousness and good manners are also the Southern way.

It's 96 degrees in the shade and I can hear the creak and groan of the handle as it's cranked.  Wood and aluminum, rock salt and ice, there's treasure at the end of this cream and sugar rainbow, and we covet it more than gold.  Eager to help, cousins stand in line to wait a turn to churn, not realizing it's work.  The grown-ups don't let on; they smile inwardly and cheer outwardly, knowing in the end, it'll take a pound of elbow grease to finish this frozen magic.

I don't understand how a wooden barrel and a hand-cranked mixer can produce The Best Ice Cream In The World.  This is the only time I'll eat fruit in my ice cream; strawberry is fine, but peach—ab-so-lute-ly luscious!  It’s done when just a tad thicker than a bonafide milkshake.  Perfectly spun and mixed, taste buds cheerfully applaud taste and texture.  Did you know there’s a “best” way to eat homemade ice cream?  Place a spoonful in your mouth; close your lips around it as you slowly extract the spoon; squish it to the roof of your mouth, then let your tongue “chew” the fruit.  Teeth only get in the way.

Moppin’ sweat and swattin’ flies don’t both bother a soul and talk about the weather isn’t small, it’s good conversation.  History is preserved in the oral tradition as well-worn laundry is re-aired, and embellishments aren’t just tolerated, they’re expected.  Children wear grass-stained knees and dirt-caked nails, and though mamas complain, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

A summer’s day eases into a symphony of invisible crickets and bullfrogs.  It’s music I don’t care for but in which somehow I find comfort.   It’s the perfect note to herald the day’s end.

This is my childhood legacy, a gift from my mother long lived after she was gone.  Tradition that shaped me.  Family who loved us in our presence but mostly in our absence.  The Southern Way, a banquet of savored memories and moments…not just of food on the table, but of life seasoned with people and places that forever feed our soul.  

And it's where dessert is a bowl full of magic and rainbows :).


Hugs & smooches to my BFF Paula Deen for sharing a link to this post with her followers on Twitter (Here first, then here with the correct link).  If you're visiting due to her mention, won't you come again?  Subscribe to me in a reader or have PENSIEVE delivered to you with a free email subscription (see left sidebar) and I shall be forever in your debt.  Or something like that ;).

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